Exploring the effect of Section 28, Shaun Ponsonby heads to The Reeds for a much needed LGBT history lesson. 

If you think of queer history in the 1980s, the first thing that undoubtedly comes to mind is the fight against AIDS; the struggle, the illness, the death, the appalling response from authorities. All of which contributed to the rise in expressed homophobia.

There is, of course, good reason for it. The level of tragedy and the people who were lost should never be forgotten.

However, the spectre of the AIDS crisis overshadows other, equally damaging events. One of the more prominent of these was Section 28 – a law that stated that local authorities “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship“.

Naturally, this caused untold damage to the growing acceptance of homosexuality. There was still much to grow – at that time 75% of the British population believed that homosexual activity was “always or mostly wrong“. Gay activist groups working to try and change such repugnant attitudes were stopped dead in their tracks, and what little progress that had been made was effectually made null and void.

We Have Rather Been Invaded is a film that tells the story of Section 28 through discussion and archive footage.

The film was being screened in The Reeds – one of Planet Slop’s absolute favourite places at the moment. A new venue, we weren’t even aware that they had begun staging screenings, and it once again proved itself to be an absolutely essential multi-purpose venue.

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The main crux of the film comes from a round table discussion of between a group of LGBT people who lived through Section 28. Each one of them worked in an area where they would have been affected by the law. Some worked in local councils, others were teachers, some were activists.

What struck me straight away was that it seemed as though director Ed Webb-Ingall had gone to great lengths to diversify the discussion. All too often, LGBT history is told purely from the point of view of white gay men. And while white gay men were represented in the discussion, we also heard from gay Asian men and black and Muslim lesbians.

The narrative threads that ran through the film leaned a little heavier towards the plight of the lesbian activists – and this seems to have been deliberate. It also afforded proper context for some of the real jewels from the archive footage.

The best of these – equally amusing and empowering – was a group of lesbians who famously broke into the BBC’s 6 o’ clock news to protest.

As is sadly often the case, there is a lack of representation for how the trans community dealt with Section 28. Though from a filmmaking point of view, given the lack of understanding of trans issues at the time, it was perhaps difficult to fit in to this particular narrative thread. But some kind of acknowledgment would have been welcome (something the director himself conceded after the screening).

The discussion itself took place in a school. Webb-Ingall stated in a Q&A after the screening that he had been told the school was to be empty on the day of filming, but in the event it turned out to be a fully functioning school day.

It is to the director’s credit that I assumed that this was done purposefully.  Throughout the discussion, you pick up on the hustle and bustle of the school day; the bell rings between lessons, you see pupils occasionally walk past in the background. It made me think of the difference in acceptance between the generation speaking at the table, and those we could see and hear in the distance.

The issues discussed within the film could all raised further questions that a larger project should explore in greater detail. One gentleman mentioned how he arrived to the UK in America after the Stonewall Riots and the Pride movement there. There was no such movement in the UK, and progress was much slower (this is, incidentally, despite homosexuality being made lawful in the UK before most American states, such as New York, where it was illegal until 1980). What does this say about the British psyche?

The full effect of the law was made clear towards the end. Despite being passed by Thatcher in the 80s, and all the progress made in the time since then, Section 28 wasn’t repealed until 2003.

Let that sink in.

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Inevitably, it made me assess my own time in school. I was still in education at that point, and for my remaining days, the teachers were trained to do their jobs while Section 28 was in effect. There was no teaching of anything remotely queer. Casually homophobic abuse was barely challenged. Doubly so in a Catholic environment. There wasn’t even an acknowledgement in sex education, and only passing references in PHSE.

Thinking of the young people I have spoken to who are currently in education, there is far more awareness in them than even I had, despite – as was pointed out in the film – there were clauses forbidding LGBT “promotion” in the curriculum as recently as 2014. This is a film that should be shown in schools, as it is important to ensure that in the age of equal marriage, people are educated that this abhorrent lack of acceptance and respect was in our lifetime.

The lingering question is whether progress would have been any quicker without Thatcher and her homophobic cronies.

Following the film, there was a group discussion about LGBT+ rights in Liverpool, and there was some discussion of how far behind Liverpool is in its attitudes. We didn’t even have Pride until 2008 – even Cornwall had Pride events before us.

In any case, I bring it up mainly because of Sandi Hughes, who was in attendance and spent her youth filming happenings in the LGBT scene in Liverpool. If there was a protest, she was there with her camera. If there was an LGBT theatre event, she was there. No matter what, she was there.

She has graciously uploaded her archives to http://rewindfastforward.net. Clicking onto the site essentially gives you the history of LGBT Liverpool from 1975 to 2005, and it comes highly recommended.